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Car Care: Keep it clear to avoid bill shocks
By Jack Biddle • 24/05/2015
Giving mechanic good direction puts car owner back in control
It’s never been easy for owners trying to stay in financial control of motor vehicle repairs and servicing costs. For many, both male and female, walking into a vehicle service reception area takes them out of their comfort zone and they are often too embarrassed to ask what may appear to be a silly question when coming face to face with the service advisor.
Let’s face it, when owners do manage to find the release lever and pop their heads under the bonnet of the modern motor vehicle, it’s all a bit of a mystery anyway. What questions can they possibly ask if all they have to look at is a big plastic cover? Yes, believe me, the engine is under there somewhere.
At times, its fingers crossed that it will be all plain sailing and the service or repair costs won’t be too far away from the estimate given at the time of booking, or even roughly similar to what it cost last time.
But as some readers will know from experience, it doesn’t always work out that way, and unpleasant surprises come collection time can arise.
Nine times out of ten, it’s a case of lack of communication and/or understanding between the customer and repairer that creates an unhappy situation between both parties. This can develop well before the job has even been started, as well as during and after the work has been completed.
The words “I thought” are the ones used most frequently from both sides when trying to sort out why a particular job has fallen off the rails.
The “I thought” could be the customer saying they expected to be contacted if a particular job was going to take longer than expected or cost more than estimated.
The “I thought” from the repairer can often mean they simply assumed the customer would want extra work carried out, or a cost overrun was unavoidable and therefore, not worth ringing them about.
In recent times, a lot of workshop front line staff have been trained to get the customer's signature on the work sheet at the reception desk, well before the job has started. This is certainly a step in the right direction to help avoid conflict and confusion, but in many ways it helps protect the workshop more than the customer at times in my view.
Signing on the dotted line is basically giving approval for a particular job to be carried out. But it can also lead to those dreaded assumptions still being made from both parties. For example, if the job card read “Carry out routine service” or “Attend to noise in transmission” only, and was signed by the customer, then the question has to be asked as to what it is, they are actually signing for?
Routine service could be interpreted to mean automatically replace worn brake pads while the transmission noise repair could see the technician tearing into the job and having the transmission dismantled and in a million pieces, before the customer has been informed of repair costs or the reason for the failure.
So how do customers help protect themselves against such potential issues?
We have listed a number of important and hopefully helpful steps that could be taken at time of booking, and also at time of handing the keys over and while the vehicle is in the hands of the repairer.
When booking, be very specific on the work required
Ask for an estimate of costs and a brief explanation of what the job involves
Be very clear that no additional work is to be undertaken without prior approval
Provide more than one contact number to the repairer if possible
Where applicable, insist on demonstrating a noise/rattle/performance issue on arrival at reception with a technical staff member such as the shop foreman
Where applicable, agree on a fair time and cost to diagnose a particular problem and report back with recommendations and any further costs
Read the job sheet carefully before signing to ensure all details and instructions are clear and correct. Ask for changes if not happy before signing
If approval is given to investigate a problem further by phone, ask for a recap of what has been agreed, to ensure there are no misunderstandings, and take notes
If approval is given to proceed on recommended work, ask for regular progress reports
Don’t be afraid to challenge a recommended cost increase by asking why it’s so important to spend the extra money
Ask for any old/faulty parts to be retained until the vehicle is collected
Ask for possible alternative options when extra work is recommended
If genuine parts are not used to help reduce costs, ask about any possible downsides or warranty issues
It could be argued that most reputable repairers are very proactive and cover off most of the above points anyway, but it doesn’t always pay for the customer to assume too much.
Asking a few questions, staying involved and laying out some easy and common sense ground rules, is far better than walking away with fingers crossed and simply hoping for a positive outcome.